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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 482649 times)
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« Reply #4395 on: Feb 04, 2013, 08:59 AM »

continued ...........

One of the more curious aspects of oil development in North Dakota is that the people making arguments against rampant growth, environmental degradation and the messy business of extracting oil are somewhat few and far between, proverbial voices in the wilderness. Probably the loudest of these is John Heiser, a fourth-generation North Dakotan rancher and part-time park ranger who lives near Grassy Butte, and who has been railing against the pace of the boom from the start. Last February he wrote in The Bismarck Tribune that the state’s politicians were not hearing what “everyday people out here are saying — that is, stop the oil madness wreaking havoc with the land, wildlife and Western heritage we’ve long cherished.” Not long before, the Crosby Journal editor Cecile Krimm called the region an “economic disaster area,” citing swamped sewage systems, crumbling roads, dizzy rents and labor shortages as reasons that officials ought to be trying to brake a runaway train.

But oil development, and fracking in particular, raises little of the hue and cry it does in Eastern states sitting above the natural gas in the Marcellus shale. Even a well-publicized investigation by the news Web site ProPublica that reported that there were more than “1,000 accidental releases of oil, drilling wastewater and other fluids” in North Dakota in 2011 passed without much fuss.

A more typical attitude is represented by Harold Hamm, chief executive of Continental Resources. “Why do [critics] always start talking about the challenges?” Hamm said in a speech he gave at Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in Bismarck in May. “What challenges? Spending all the money?” Hamm, who is known as the Baron of the Bakken by virtue of having more than a million acres leased for drilling, led Mitt Romney’s energy committee, which proposed giving states control of oil leases on federal lands.

One reason for the lack of dissent may be that there just aren’t that many people in North Dakota — the state has a population density of less than 10 per square mile; Pennsylvania has 284, New York 411 — and the people who are there appear to have weighed the benefits against the costs. And perhaps, given the state’s history of hardship, they don’t feel entitled to qualms about social and environmental costs; maybe ambivalence about fat years seems self-indulgent, a failure to appreciate how lean life on the frontier once was and could well be again.

It may also be that the lack of dissent reflects the way North Dakotans idealize themselves as more inclined to endure than to complain, certain it takes a special temperament to live in such forbidding country, where winters are brutal and culture is thin. North Dakotans are among the most prudent people in North America — even amid record surpluses, the electorate last year rejected a proposal to abolish property taxes — and their history tells them that after the tumult of a boom, the landscape, in the words of former Gov. Arthur A. Link, will “be quiet again.”

Link, who died in 2010, was a popular, plain-spoken Democrat who was born in the tiny town of Alexander in the heart of the Williston Basin — a town that once opposed a bypass fearing it would dry up and die if Highway 85 were routed around it, and now is on the verge of choking to death on boom-truck traffic. Nearly 40 years ago, when the boom of the moment was lignite coal, not oil, Link gave a speech at an annual meeting of the North Dakota Rural Electric Association. It’s been called “North Dakota’s Gettysburg Address.”

“We do not want to halt progress,” the governor said. “We do not plan to be selfish and say, ‘North Dakota will not share its energy resources.’ . . . We simply want to ensure the most efficient and environmentally sound method of utilizing our precious coal and water resources for the benefit of the broadest number of people possible. And when we are through with that and the landscape is quiet again, when the draglines, the blasting rigs, the power shovels and the huge gondolas cease to rip and roar. . . . when the last bulldozer has pushed the last spoil pile into place, and the last patch of barren earth has been seeded to grass or grain, let those who follow and repopulate the land be able to say, our grandparents did their job well. The land is as good and, in some cases, better than before.”

It’s hard to say whether the hope and grandeur of that vision are deeper than its delusions. In truth, it seems less an assessment of what humanity can expect when it is done devouring the earth’s nonrenewable resources than a prayer that reflects a faith unique to the place where Link was born, faith that all those caved-in cabins, withered towns and stillborn dreams — and whatever is left when the oil is gone — can be redeemed.

Chip Brown is a contributing writer for the magazine. He last wrote about the filmmaker Whit Stillman.

Alec Soth is a photographer in Minnesota. He recently published “LBM Dispatch No. 3: Michigan.”

Editor: Sheila Glaser
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« Reply #4396 on: Feb 04, 2013, 03:02 PM »

Student loans: The next housing bubble
College students accrue hundreds of thousands in debt with little hope of paying it back. It's a cruel game
By Paul Campos

The American system of higher education is increasingly becoming a fiscal disaster for ever-larger numbers of students who move through it.  That disaster is being caused by a combination of terrible incentives, institutional greed — and the pervasive myth that more education is the cure for economic inequality.

The extent of this myth is highlighted by a new report from the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, which indicates that nearly half of all employed college graduates have jobs that require less than a four-year college education. Despite such sobering statistics, the higher-education complex remains remarkably successful at ensuring that American taxpayers fund the acquisition of educational credentials that, in many cases, leave the people who obtain them worse off than they were before they enrolled.

Far from being “priceless,” as the promoters of ever-more spending on higher education would have Americans believe, both undergraduate and post-graduate education is turning out to be a catastrophic investment for many young and not-so-young adults.

In recent years, law school has become the most striking example of this remarkably perverse system. Consider how American legal education is funded:

    Law schools calculate a total annual cost of attendance, based on their tuition and the cost of living in the area where the school is located. For example, American University’s law school estimates this year’s cost of attendance as $70,204.

    Any student a law school chooses to admit can, assuming he or she is not currently in default on an educational loan, borrow 100 percent of the cost of attendance for that particular school from the federal government, in the form of educational loans that currently carry interest rates of 6.8 percent and 7.9 percent.

    The federal government puts no limits on how much money a school can make its students eligible to borrow, nor does it make any effort to determine whether the federal loans students are taking out have any reasonable prospect of being paid back.

    Interest begins to accrue on these loans as soon as they are disbursed. This means that a student who enrolled, for example, in American University last fall will have — assuming a 3.5 percent annual increase in the cost of attendance — approximately $260,000 in debt when the student’s first loan payment comes due, six months after graduation.  The student will owe monthly payments of more than $3,000 on the standard 10-year repayment plan, and nearly $2,000 on an extended 25-year repayment schedule.

In effect, the system allows any 22-year-old American University chooses to admit to borrow a sum equal to the average home mortgage, but without a single one of the actuarial controls that are supposed to minimize the risk that homeowners will borrow too much money.

After all, even at the height of the housing bubble, homebuyers who got so-called liar loans that misstated their actual income still had to jump through certain hoops to do so. In addition, if they defaulted on their loans, there was a house the lender could foreclose on that in most cases still had some value. Of course, that system proved to be far too unregulated, and led to a financial disaster that would have wrecked the nation’s banking system if not for hundreds of billions of dollars of federal bailout money.

Still, even that system was a model of rationality in comparison to the federal government’s funding of higher education.  As long as they are technically “nonprofit” institutions, schools can charge whatever they like, without having to provide a shred of proof that their graduates will be able to pay back the incredible debt loads they will be incurring. And, of course, when graduates default on these loans there’s no house to sell off to cover at least some of the deficiency.

Less than two out of every five American University law graduates are getting legal jobs of any kind – let alone the far rarer jobs that would allow graduates to actually service the debts they’re incurring by attending the school. And American is a fairly high-ranked law school.

But none of this should be taken as solely a criticism of American University in particular, or even law schools in general.  American’s law school — and America’s law schools — are merely the canary in the coal mine of an educational system that, sooner or later, is going to cave in on itself.
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« Reply #4397 on: Feb 05, 2013, 07:40 AM »

Woman charged with insulting Somali state institutions after rape claim

Woman who said she was raped by government forces, and a journalist who interviewed her, to appear in Mogadishu court

Clar Ni Chonghaile in Nairobi
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 5 February 2013 08.13 GMT   

A Somali woman who said she was raped by government forces, and a journalist who interviewed her are due in court in Mogadishu on Tuesday, accused of insulting state institutions in a case that has raised concerns about women's rights and press freedom in the fragile state.

The international outcry surrounding the case is an embarrassment for the Somali president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, whose election last year was described by the international community as the start of a new era for Somalia after decades of instability and conflict.

The trial started as Mohamud toured Europe to garner international support to rebuild Somalia. He was in Britain on Monday where he met the international development secretary, Justine Greening.

Human rights groups have described the trial, which was adjourned on Saturday at the attorney general's request, as politically motivated while the US state department's spokeswoman said it was "a litmus test" for the future of Somalia.

Freelance journalist Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim and the 27-year-old woman have been charged with insulting a government body and providing false evidence. The woman's husband and two other people have also been charged, and the defendants could face lengthy jail terms if found guilty.

The woman was arrested on 10 January, two days after she was interviewed by Abdinur Ibrahim and told him she had been raped by government forces last year.

She was interrogated over two days without legal counsel and released after police said she retracted her story. Her husband was detained on 12 January and is still in custody, rights groups said.

Abdinur Ibrahim, who was also arrested on 10 January, is still being held.

The Somali police also alleged he was involved in an al-Jazeera report on rape in camps for displaced people in Mogadishu. The news agency dismissed the police claim, and Abdinur Ibrahim did not file his interview to any outlet, rights groups said.

"Bringing charges against a woman who alleges rape makes a mockery of the new Somali government's priorities," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

"The police 'investigation' in this case was a politically motivated attempt to blame and silence those who report on the pervasive problem of sexual violence by Somali security forces," he said.

The international community, especially Britain and the US, have enthusiastically backed Somalia's new government, which emerged last September after a UN-backed peace process to replace a corrupt and inefficient transitional authority.

"The donor countries funding Somalia's police force and criminal justice system need to make clear to the government that they won't be party to injustices," Bekele said.

David Cameron is due to co-host an international conference on Somalia with Mohamud in Britain in May to provide support for the new government's efforts to rebuild its country.

After the Somali president met Greening in London on Monday, it was announced Britain would support Somali parliamentarians as they establish their new government and federal parliament.

"It's vital that we make the most of the close links between our two countries as Somalia rebuilds its democracy," Greening said after the meeting. "After last September's elections, the most representative process in decades, Somalia now has a real chance to make progress towards stability and peace after 21 years of conflict."

The Somali government does seem to be taking the criticism over the trial on board.

On Sunday, the rime minister, Abdi Farah Shirdon Saaid, said authorities would do more to protect rape victims, and he promised to reform the armed forces and judiciary once the trial had concluded.

"We recognise the concerns of our international partners and we are only too aware of the enormous challenges our nation faces," he said in a statement.

Somalia has been enjoying a period of relative stability since African Union forces pushed the Islamic militants of al-Shabaab out of most of their urban strongholds, including the capital. The rebels still control some rural areas and carry out sporadic bomb attacks in Mogadishu

**********

India gang-rape victim’s companion will testify in murder trial

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, February 5, 2013 7:00 EST

The companion of an Indian medical student who died after being gang-raped on a bus in New Delhi was to begin giving evidence on Tuesday in the trial of five adults accused of her murder, his father said.

The 28-year-old, who cannot be named for legal reasons, arrived at the sessions court in New Delhi in a wheelchair, according to an AFP correspondent, and was expected to be the first prosecution witness to testify.

Although he did not speak to reporters, his father confirmed that his son would give evidence in the trial of the five men who have all denied murder, rape and robbery charges.

A sixth defendant is being tried separately as a juvenile.

“My son will go to any lengths to ensure that the guilty are punished,” the father told AFP as the two of them entered the courtroom in the Saket district.

“He will cooperate and is prepared to answer any questions posed by the defence,” he added.

The 23-year-old medical student died in a Singapore hospital on December 29 from massive internal injuries she sustained during the bus assault a fortnight earlier which caused outrage across India.

She and her male companion had spent the evening at the cinema and were lured onto the off-duty bus after failing to flag down an autorickshaw to take them home.

As well as taking turns to rape the medical student and violating her with a rusty iron bar, the group attacked her companion so badly that he is still unable to walk properly.

He is the main witness in a case that is being held in a special fast-track court.

The judge has banned all reporting of proceedings inside the courtroom and ordered lawyers not to speak to journalists.
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« Reply #4398 on: Feb 05, 2013, 07:42 AM »


Magdalene laundries survivors threaten hunger strike

Women seeking redress from Irish state after being ordered to work unpaid in institutions run by Catholic church from 1920s

Henry McDonald Dublin
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 5 February 2013 08.33 GMT   

Elderly survivors of Ireland's notorious Magdalene laundries are threatening to go on hunger strike if the Irish government fails to establish a financial redress scheme for women held in the institutions.

The Fine Gael-Labour coalition will receive a report on Tuesday that will establish the Irish state's role in a system that the UN Committee on Torture described as slavery.

Girls described as "troubled" or deemed to have been morally "fallen" – mainly unmarried young mothers – were ordered by courts to work unpaid in the laundries run by the Irish Catholic church. The workhouses operated from the early 1920s until 1996.

Steven O'Riordain, a representative of the Magdalene Survivors Together, has warned some women will go on hunger strike if the government does not meet their demands.

"There is a possibility that this will happen. Some of the women have said if they do not get proper redress from a state which was responsible for being abandoned in these institutions. Many of them say they are at that age now where they have nothing to lose if the government fails to set up a scheme that will give some compensation for what happened to them," he said.

In 2011, the UN Committee Against Torture called on the Irish government to set up an inquiry into the treatment of thousands of women and girls.

It has been estimated that up to 30,000 women passed through the laundries and had to wash clothing and bedding for bodies ranging from the Irish army to hotel groups in the republic without any pay.

Tuesday's report has been headed by Senator Martin McAleese, the husband of the former Irish president Mary McAleese.

Three orders of Catholic nuns – the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy, the Religious Sisters of Charity and the Sisters of the Good Shepherd – ran the Magdalene laundries.


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« Reply #4399 on: Feb 05, 2013, 07:49 AM »


CIA rendition: more than a quarter of countries 'offered covert support'

Report finds at least 54 countries co-operated with global kidnap, detention and torture operation mounted after 9/11 attacks

Ian Cobain   
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 5 February 2013 07.00 GMT      

The full extent of the CIA's extraordinary rendition programme has been laid bare with the publication of a report showing there is evidence that more than a quarter of the world's governments covertly offered support.

A 213-page report compiled by the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI), a New York-based human rights organisation, says that at least 54 countries co-operated with the global kidnap, detention and torture operation that was mounted after 9/11, many of them in Europe.

So widespread and extensive was the participation of governments across the world that it is now clear the CIA could not have operated its programme without their support, according to the OSJI.

"There is no doubt that high-ranking Bush administration officials bear responsibility for authorising human rights violations associated with secret detention and extraordinary rendition, and the impunity that they have enjoyed to date remains a matter of significant concern," the report says.

"But responsibility for these violations does not end with the United States. Secret detention and extraordinary rendition operations, designed to be conducted outside the United States under cover of secrecy, could not have been implemented without the active participation of foreign governments. These governments too must be held accountable."

The states identified by the OSJI include those such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt and Jordan where the existence of secret prisons and the use of torture has been well documented for many years. But the OSJI's rendition list also includes states such as Ireland, Iceland and Cyprus, which are accused of granting covert support for the programme by permitting the use of airspace and airports by aircraft involved in rendition flights.

Canada not only permitted the use of its airspace but provided information that led to one of its own nationals being taken to Syria where he was held for a year and tortured, the report says.

Iran and Syria are identified by the OSJI as having participated in the rendition programme. Syria is said to have been one of the "most common destinations for rendered suspects", while Iran is said to have participated in the CIA's programme by handing over 15 individuals to Kabul shortly after the US invasion of Afghanistan, in the full knowledge that they would fall under US control.

Other countries are conspicuous by their absence from the rendition list: Sweden and Finland are present, but there is no evidence of Norwegian involvement. Similarly, while many Middle Eastern countries did become involved in the rendition programme, Israel did not, according to the OSJI research.

Many of the countries on the list are European. Germany, Spain, Portugal and Austria are among them, but France, the Netherlands and Hungary are not. Georgia stands accused of involvement in rendition, but Russia does not.

Some countries, such as Poland, Lithuania and Romania, hosted secret prisons on their territory.

The OSJI reports that the UK supported CIA rendition operations, interrogated people being secretly detained, allowed the use of British airports and airspace, arranged for one man, Sami al-Saadi, to be rendered to Libya with his entire family, where he was subsequently tortured, and provided intelligence that allowed a second similar operation to take place.

Publication of the report appears to have been timed to coincide with the confirmation hearing on Thursday of John Brennan, Barack Obama's choice to head the CIA. Brennan is widely expected to be questioned about his association with the so-called enhanced interrogation policies adopted by Bush.

The OSJI report, titled Globalising Torture, says the full scope of non-US government involvement may still remain unknown.

"Despite the efforts of the United States and its partner governments to withhold the truth about past and ongoing abuses, information relating to these abuses will continue to find its way into the public domain," the report says.

"At the same time, while US courts have closed their doors to victims of secret detention and extraordinary rendition operations, legal challenges to foreign government participation in these operations are being heard in courts around the world."

The OSJI is calling on the US government to repudiate the rendition programme, close all its remaining secret prisons, mount a criminal investigation into human rights abuses – including those apparently endorsed by government lawyers – and create an independent and non-partisan commission to investigate and publicly report on the role that officials played in such abuses.

The organisation is also calling on non-US governments to end their involvement in rendition operations, mount effective investigations – including criminal investigations – to hold those responsible to account, and institute safeguards to ensure that future counter-terrorism operations do not violate human rights standards.

• This article was amended on 5 February 2013. It incorrectly stated that Syria was part of George Bush's so-called axis of evil. This has been corrected.

**********

Rendition, Zero Dark Thirty and the brutal reality of Britain's secret services

Kathryn Bigelow's film about the killing of Osama bin Laden does not touch the reality of what occurred in the 'war on terror'

Henry Porter   
The Observer, Sunday 16 December 2012   
       
Interspersed through the first 45 minutes of the new film about the killing of Osama bin Laden, Zero Dark Thirty, are scenes of CIA agents torturing a suspect named Ammar. The torture takes place in an anonymous facility and I suppose you could call it generic in nature: the victim is deprived of sleep, beaten, confined in a small space and waterboarded. Eventually he gives up fragments of information that lead US Navy Seals to Bin Laden's compound. 

The obvious conclusion is that without this brutality Bin Laden would be alive and still free to attack the US. But there is a problem with the apparently unflinching realism of Kathryn Bigelow's film. Drawing on millions of pages of CIA documents, the US Senate intelligence committee has concluded that intelligence work, rather than torture, led to Bin Laden. So, it seems that scenes conceived with the same bent logic as the Fox network TV series 24, where torture was routinely shown to elicit vital information, were included for dramatic, political or even pornographic effect.

The realism that Bigelow and her writer, Mark Boal, affect is false because of this inaccuracy about the hunt for Bin Laden, but more importantly because even this explicit scene does not touch the reality of what occurred in the "war on terror". The reality is much harder to bear.

Bigelow should try the story of Sami al-Saadi. Or better still, listen to his daughter Khadija, who gave the most chilling account to the BBC of his rendition to Libya as part of a deal struck with MI6's Mark Allen, for which the Saadi family is now in receipt of £2.2m from the British government.

Imagine the fear of the Saadi kids as they were separated from their parents and flown from Hong Kong to Bangkok, where the plane picked up five of Muammar Gaddafi's men. They didn't know their parents were on the plane until it landed at Tripoli and Khadija saw her father handcuffed and with a needle in his arm. Then they met Moussa Koussa, Gaddafi's intelligence chief, and the years of Saadi's imprisonment and torture began.

Nothing in Bigelow and Boal's film could capture the terrible effects of rendition and torture on the victims and their families, nor, for that matter, the hypocrisy of western governments that outsourced brutality and whose representatives watched as people were sodomised and electrocuted and cut, while leaders reassured themselves that this was the grown-up world of realpolitik.

Tony Blair clinched the desert deal with Gaddafi that rendered two of the dictator's enemies – Saadi and Abdel Hakim Belhaj – but now he circles the world with his Faith Foundation. Sir Mark Allen, who apparently dined with Koussa at the Travellers Club and whose correspondence with Gaddafi's former intelligence chief allowed the two Libyans to bring a case against the British government, muses about the sacred mysteries of religion for the Catholic Herald.

This is from Allen's recent article about the visit of a reliquary of St John Vianney, the Curé d'Ars, to Britain. "The visit of the heart of St John Vianney will reach out to many and touch them in comforting and wonderful ways. Thus, the mysterious power of the holy, its impact and influence, comes into our lives. And we are attracted by it. Our deepest nature responds."

Hold that in your mind and read the note to Koussa after Belhaj and his pregnant wife were rendered to Tripoli. "I congratulate you on the safe arrival of [Belhadj]. This was the least we could do for you and for Libya. I know I did not pay for the air cargo [but] the intelligence [on him] was British." In another note, Allen was specific about the kidnap of the Saadi children in Hong Kong.

Neither I, in the espionage thrillers I have written, nor perhaps even the great John Le Carré could have dreamed up a spy that harbours this particularly ripe hypocrisy. It seems too unbelievable, yet the sanctimonious self-worth evident in Blair, Allen and the former foreign secretary Jack Straw, who, incidentally, seems to have misled the House of Commons on Labour's involvement with rendition, is precisely what allowed Britain to ignore torture treaties and render men to have their fingernails pulled out.

"I feel so angry and sad," said Khadija. "A country like England is supposed [to] be [a] democracy and support the human rights."

Perhaps Blair and the rest of them did not trouble themselves with visions of what might befall her family, or Belhaj and his wife, yet they let it happen nonetheless, despite their public piety. And that's the point – all governments panic and lose their way, and some ministers and civil servants, whatever they tell us about themselves, are capable of behaving very badly indeed. That's why any proper free society has systems of control and scrutiny, and insists on accountability, even of its intelligence services.

It is essential to understand that none of what happened to the Saadis or Belhaj would have come to light had it not been for the chance discovery by Human Rights Watch of documents in Koussa's office, which established Allen's eager co-operation on behalf of the UK. The evidence was so strong that the government simply settled with Saadi, even though, of course, it did not have the guts to admit liability.

But what would have happened if the justice and security bill, currently going through parliament, had already been passed and the system of secret court hearings was in force. The government would have ordered a "closed material procedure" and fought Saadi in camera, and all the evidence would have been secret, and remained so forever.

If this bill passes, the public will be deprived of knowledge of any case that is remotely embarrassing to ministers and spies, and as a result people like Blair, Allen and Straw will be able to act with an absolute lack of public scrutiny – that is, with impunity. This is a very serious attack on our system of open justice, and what is absolutely without conscience is that the prime minister is now using the Saadi case to argue that secret courts will increase rather than diminish the justice available in Britain.

As the campaign group Reprieve suggests, politicians are simply not to be trusted with a dangerous new power that closes off courts for their own convenience. In camera or on camera, the subject of torture is too serious for politicians to be allowed to hide in secret courts and for filmmakers to reduce the experience of endless pain and despair so that it seems just about justifiable.


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« Reply #4400 on: Feb 05, 2013, 07:53 AM »

North Korea nuclear test 'imminent'

South Korea's United Nations ambassador says 'very busy activities' taking place at North Korean nuclear test site

Associated Press in New York
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 5 February 2013 07.24 GMT   

South Korea's ambassador to the United Nations has said a North Korean nuclear test "seems to be imminent".

Kim Sook said there were "very busy activities" taking place at North Korea's nuclear test site "and everybody's watching".

Kim told a press conference that in the event of a nuclear test, he expected the UN security council to respond with "firm and strong measures".

North Korea announced last month it would conduct a nuclear test to protest against the imposition of tougher security council sanctions after a satellite launch in December that the US and others say was a disguised test of banned missile technology.

The council ordered North Korea in the sanctions resolution to refrain from a nuclear test or face "significant action".

South Korea joined the security council in January and holds the rotating presidency this month. Kim said he was speaking as South Korea's ambassador, not as the council president.

He said that during negotiations on the latest sanctions resolution all 15 council members – including North Korean ally China – were unified.

"They are very firm and resolute and I would expect very firm and strong measures to be taken in terms of format as well as in substance once they go ahead with such provocation" as a nuclear test, Kim said.

Pyongyang's two previous nuclear tests – in 2006 and 2009 – both took place after it was condemned by the UN for rocket launches.

The sanctions, aimed at trying to derail the country's rogue nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, bar North Korea from testing or using nuclear or ballistic missile technology, and from importing or exporting material for these programmes.

The latest sanctions resolution again demanded that the North abandon its nuclear weapons programme and cease launches. It imposed sanctions on North Korean companies and government agencies, including its space agency and several individuals.

*********

February 5, 2013

U.S. May Have Trouble Gauging North Korean Nuclear Test

By CHOE SANG-HUN
IHT

SEOUL, South Korea — Even if North Korea follows through with its threat to conduct a third nuclear test, Washington and its allies will have to be lucky to determine whether the device detonated is made of plutonium or uranium, a prominent American nuclear scientist and South Korean officials said on Tuesday.

Whether North Korea sets off a uranium bomb is a question high on the minds of policy makers and analysts in the region. A failure to answer it would further complicate their efforts to assess North Korea’s nuclear weapons capabilities.

Until a few years ago, North Korea’s atomic bomb fuel had been believed to be composed solely of plutonium gleaned from its small nuclear reactor in Yongbyon, north of Pyongyang. That reactor was partially dismantled in 2008 and remains offline today after yielding enough plutonium for half a dozen bombs, according to American estimates. Until a new reactor North Korea is building in Yongbyon goes online, its plutonium stockpile is limited.

An uranium detonation, however, would indicate that North Korea might be well on its way to substantially expanding its nuclear arsenal through uranium enrichment, a harder-to-detect means of making bomb fuel. That would also make the North’s nuclear program more menacing, its regime likely more recalcitrant and its neighbors more agitated, as seen in Seoul’s recent decision to extend the range of its missiles.

Ever since North Korea announced late last month that it would conduct a new nuclear test, officials and analysts in the region have suspected that North Korea this time might detonate a uranium device, as opposed to its two earlier tests in 2006 and 2009, which were believed to have used plutonium.

But to find out which bomb is used, “you have to be very lucky,” said Siegfried S. Hecker, former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and now professor at Stanford University in California. He was speaking on the sidelines of a forum organized by the South Korean news agency Yonhap and Stanford’s Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center.

While scientists can tell the size of the explosion from its seismic signals, they said they must detect and analyze the different types of xenon gases produced in an atomic explosion — and they must do so quickly — to differentiate between a plutonium and highly enriched uranium bomb.

“The problem with xenon gases is that after 10 to 20 hours after the detonation, it gets extremely difficult to tell their ratio difference between a plutonium and atomic bomb,” said a nuclear scientist affiliated with the South Korean military, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to talk to reporters on the record. “Since North Korea conducts its nuclear tests underground, it takes two to four days for the gases to get out, if they do at all. By then, it would be too late to tell the difference.”

Mr. Hecker shared the concern.

“If a next test is well contained, then we may learn nothing about the device detonated,” he said in an article posted on the Web site of the Foreign Policy magazine on Tuesday. “However, one of the risks Pyongyang takes in trying to demonstrate a test at a higher level is that they may produce fissures that allow radioactive seepage or possibly cause a major blowout from the tunnel.”

In the 2006 test, U.S. officials said they relied on offshore airborne monitors and radiological monitoring stations around the world to detect gases leaking out, but without specifying whether it was a plutonium or uranium device. In the 2009 test, when the tunnel used at the time was believed to have been sealed, there was no report on leaked gases.

After the United Nations Security Council voted on Jan. 22 to tighten sanctions against North Korea as punishment for its Dec. 12 rocket launching, Pyongyang vowed to expand its nuclear program “both quantitatively and qualitatively” and conduct a third nuclear test at a “higher level.”

After years of denial, North Korea revealed a modern centrifuge facility to Mr. Hecker, who was visiting its Yongbyon nuclear complex in 2010. He said he believed that besides the one made public, North Korea must have a covert facility hidden. And former U.S. Defense Secretary William J. Perry, speaking during the forum in Seoul on Tuesday, said there were “at least two” uranium-enrichment facilities in the North.

Unlike a plutonium program, which involves a highly visible nuclear reactor, centrifuge plants can be easily hidden in North Korea’s estimated 8,000 underground military installations, South Korean military officials said.

Another possibility is that North Korea this time may detonate two or more nuclear devices at the same time, President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea told the South Korean daily Chosun Ilbo in an interview published on Tuesday.

The North Koreans were active around two of the three known portals to underground tunnels in their Punggye-ri nuclear test site in northeastern North Korea, David Albright and Robert Avagyan said in an analysis of recent satellite imagery of the place posted on the Web site of the Institute for Science and International Security on Monday.

The North’s two previous bomb tests were considered less than successful, and it needed more tests for information for miniaturizing bombs to mount on its missiles, analysts said.

“By a ‘nuclear test of higher level,’ the North Koreans meant their efforts to miniaturize their nuclear devices,” Mr. Lee told Chosun. “They become a real threat if they send such miniaturized nuclear weapons to Iran or mount them on intercontinental ballistic missiles.”


********

North Korea video shows city resembling New York under missile attack

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, February 5, 2013 6:40 EST

North Korea, poised to conduct a nuclear test any day now, has posted a video on YouTube depicting a US city resembling New York engulfed in flames after an apparent missile attack.

The footage was uploaded Saturday by the North’s official website, Uriminzokkiri, which distributes news and propaganda from the state media.

The video is shot as a dream sequence, with a young man seeing himself on board a North Korean space shuttle launched into orbit by the same type of rocket Pyongyang successfully tested in December.

As the shuttle circles the globe — to the tune of “We Are the World” — the video zooms in on countries below, including a joyfully re-unified Korea.

In contrast, the focus then switches to a city — shrouded in the US flag — under apparent missile attack with its skyscrapers, including what appears to be the Empire State Building, either on fire or in ruins.

“Somewhere in the United States, black clouds of smoke are billowing,” runs the caption across the screen.

“It seems that the nest of wickedness is ablaze with the fire started by itself,” it added.

The video ends with the young man concluding that his dream will “surely come true”.

“Despite all kinds of attempts by imperialists to isolate and crush us… never will anyone be able to stop the people marching toward a final victory,” it said.

The North is expected to conduct its nuclear test as a defiant response to UN sanctions imposed after its December rocket launch.

Click to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qn95Md3IrRE&feature=player_embedded


* North-Korea-rocket-launch-010.jpg (34.1 KB, 460x276 - viewed 44 times.)
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February 4, 2013

Mali Rebels, Now Aiding French, Say They’re Holding Militants

By STEVEN ERLANGER and SCOTT SAYARE
IHT

PARIS — French warplanes bombed Islamist militant bases and depots deep into northern Mali to disrupt their supply routes, French officials said on Monday, as secular Tuareg rebels in northern Mali said they had captured two Islamist commanders near the Algerian border.

The Tuaregs favor independence and had joined forces with better-armed Islamist fighters last year to take over much of Mali’s north. But the Tuaregs were soon edged out by their Islamist counterparts, who controlled the region’s major towns and imposed a harsh version of Islamic law, cutting off hands, stoning a couple to death and beating people in the streets.

Now, with the rapid advance of the French military campaign to recapture northern Mali, the Tuaregs have vowed to help French forces fight the Islamist militants.

The main Tuareg rebel group, the M.N.L.A., announced that it had captured Mohamed Moussa Ag Mohamed, an Islamist leader who helped impose Shariah law in the city of Timbuktu. It also said it had seized Oumeini Ould Baba Akhmed, described as a leader of the Islamist group Mujao, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, which is a splinter from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and responsible for kidnapping at least one French hostage.

The two men were captured on Saturday near the Algerian border by a patrol and taken to the northern city of Kidal on Sunday for questioning, said Mossa Ag Attaher, a spokesman for the M.N.L.A., speaking from Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. He said the French would be welcome to question the men.

The M.N.L.A. — the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, the Tuareg name for northern Mali — now controls the northern city of Kidal, while French forces remain at the city’s airport. The French are reluctant to move into Kidal with Malian soldiers, whom the Tuaregs regard as interlopers and who have been accused of human-rights abuses against Tuaregs. But French special forces are operating in the area, French officials said on Monday. The French are also pressing the government in the capital, Bamako, to open political negotiations with the M.N.L.A. to provide stronger autonomy to the north — but within a united Mali.

Paris and Bamako have called on the M.N.L.A. to give up its aspiration for independence, but Mr. Attaher said that Tuaregs needed firm assurances that their rights and freedoms would be better protected and that they would have more political power.

If those guarantees are provided, he said, “the M.N.L.A. will accept.” But in return for giving up independence, he asked, “What is Mali proposing?”

A French military spokesman, Col. Thierry Burkhard, said Paris would not confirm or discuss the capture of the men. But the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, said on Monday that at least 30 French jets had bombed “bases and fuel depots” in northern Mali around Tessalit, 125 miles north of Kidal, on Sunday to prevent the Islamists from regrouping in the region.

“If you look at the map, they have taken refuge in the north and northeast,” Mr. Fabius told France Inter radio. “But they can stay there only if they have ways to get supplies. So in a very efficient manner, the military is stopping that.”

In Paris on Monday, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. met President François Hollande of France and praised French troops in Mali. The two men agreed, Mr. Biden said, that African troops should take over as quickly as possible and then be rebadged as a United Nations peacekeeping force.

“We applaud your decisiveness and, I might add, the capability of France’s military forces,” Mr. Biden told Mr. Hollande. “Your decisive action was not only in the interest of France but of the United States and everyone. We agreed on the need to, quickly as possible, establish an African-led mission to Mali and as quickly as prudent transition that mission to the U.N.”

Mr. Fabius said that “in the cities we are holding, we want to be quickly replaced by African forces.” He said the French might pull out of Timbuktu relatively quickly. “We are working on it because our vocation is not to stay in the long term.”

The French are anxious not to be seen as neo-colonialists and do not want their troops, stretched out over the vastness of Mali, to be vulnerable to ambushes, kidnappings and shootings by militants who may have blended into the civilian population.

France also said it would progressively restore its development aid to Mali, frozen since a military coup last March, as soon as there was a “road map” for new elections, according to Pascal Canfin, a deputy minister for development in the Foreign Ministry. Paris has pressed for elections in Mali as early as July to replace the transitional government, but that will depend greatly on talks with the Tuaregs.
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 SPIEGEL ONLINE
02/04/2013 06:14 PM

In the Lion's Den: The Fight for Survival in Damascus

By Susanne Koelbl

Damascus has become one of the most intense battlefields in the fight for Syria, even as those loyal to President Bashar Assad insist that much of the capital remains under their control. Those who haven't left care only about survival.

"We're almost finished with them," says the general. He has a broad jaw, and his gray hair encircles his head like a thick garland.

From the roof of a military building behind Umayyad Square in Damascus, the general would be able to see columns of smoke rising above the suburb of Daraya, where rebels are battling his soldiers. But he is sitting in his office on the third floor, behind a monstrous wooden desk, under portraits of the founder of the Assad dynasty, Hafez Assad, and his son Bashar.

The infantry general, in his early fifties, wears the Syrian army emblem, a hawk above crossed swords, on his shoulder. He is a member of the military elite and has spent his life serving the Assad regime.

There are hardly any "terrorists" left in Daraya, claims the general, although there are still a few "pockets" here and there. The "terrorists," he says, are hiding in basements "like rats," building tunnels or in the canals. "That's the pathetic condition they are in," he says.

The general's name is engraved in large letters on a shiny metal nameplate on the oak door, and yet he insists that his name not be printed. No one here -- members of the military, the intelligence services or the Syrian security apparatus -- says anything on the record.

The rebels have come dangerously close to the Damascus old town, and the general's days could possibly soon be numbered. The Syrian civil war has been raging for 23 months and has claimed more than 60,000 lives. The rebels are fighting their way forward, but at a torturously slow pace and with many setbacks, repeatedly engaging the Syrian army in grueling battles. Assad's military is holding its ground primarily in the cities, but the regime no longer controls vast rural areas in between, which are now often zones of lawlessness. The rebels have cut off many supply routes, and in some outposts the soldiers don't have enough to eat and are forced to use their bullets sparingly.

An Uncanny Feel

The name Assad means "lion," and the capital Damascus has become the lion's den. President Assad has become entrenched in Damascus, where the army has concentrated its forces, defending the city at all costs. But in suburbs like Duma and Daraya, the rebels have been hammering mercilessly away at regime forces for the last six months. Sometimes the battles take place at a linear distance of only 600 meters (about 2,000 feet) from the old city.

Indeed, some streets on the periphery of Damascus have an uncanny feel. Exterior walls of ruined buildings jut into the winter sky, and the air is periodically filled with the thunder of mortars and the rattling of machine guns. And yet, only a few hundred meters away, the shops are open and bazaar vendors are selling DVDs, jewelry, luggage and clothing. Government employees go about their business as if everything were completely normal. This part of Damascus almost seems the way it was in 2000, when Bashar Assad assumed power after the death of his father Hafez. It was a time when Damascus hoped for rapid modernization in the midst of the war-torn Middle East.

Assad seemed fresh at the time. He had lived in England, and he seemed likely to propel the corrupt police state his father left behind into a more promising future. Suddenly there were mobile phones, followed by Internet access and shopping malls, and there was investment in universities and luxury hotels. The president and his attractive, cosmopolitan wife Asma strolled through the old section of Damascus and had lunch with Hollywood star Angelina Jolie. The American political activist stayed in room No. 5 at the Talisman, a boutique hotel, and the New York Times travel magazine dubbed Damascus one of the world's most important destinations.

But the old machinery of his father's regime was still there, behind the young president. It included several million profiteers, many of them Alawites, the sect aligned with the Shiites to which the Assads belong. Why should they have been interested in reform?

Unlike his father Hafez, who ruled the security services with an iron fist, the much softer Bashar never became a true dictator. His father's men still wield considerable power today.

Ordinary Criminals?

Fear protected the Assad regime, but now fear seems to have switched sides, even in the capital. It now haunts army officers when they take the bus home from work, as it does ministerial employees, businesspeople, the rich and those suspected of being loyal to the regime. They are being kidnapped by armed men and locked into basements, sometimes for weeks. The kidnappers often claim that they are rebels with the Free Syrian Army. Some of the victims are burned with lit cigarettes or are left out in the snow, dressed only in their underwear, after ransom money has been paid. It isn't always clear whether the perpetrators are fighting for a free Syria or are just ordinary criminals.

There is a neighborhood in the western part of Damascus called Mezze 86, inhabited almost exclusively by Alawites. Mezze 86 is the home of modest regime profiteers, the home of hangers-on. Residents work for the economics ministry, the police or the army.

As civil servants, they earn between 10,000 and 30,000 Syrian pounds a month, or €100 to €300 ($135 to $400). Most built their small concrete houses 20 years ago, and posters of Bashar Assad hang on every corner. Assad, an ophthalmologist by profession who received only very superficial military training, apparently tried to look frightening when he was photographed for the posters, wearing dark sunglasses and a general's uniform, and with a grim expression on his face.

The first car bomb exploded in Mezze 86 in early October. On Nov. 5, a large explosion ripped away an entire row of shops, killing at least 11 people and wounding dozens more.

Hassan Khudir's little house isn't far from the site of the bombing. A civil servant in the transportation ministry, he is wearing a corduroy jacket and tie, even at home in his small living room. But as an Alawite, he senses that his orderly old life is over. Khudir, his wife and their four children must fear the revenge of the rebels. "We will all die if there is no reconciliation," he says.

But the rebels in Damascus are also in mortal danger, like the three young female students in the back room of a Damascus café. They are wearing white hijabs to cover their hair and neck, and they are unwilling to remove their long coats. They are traditional Muslim women, they say. They arrive with two young men.

'Grapes of My Country'

All five work for Enab Baladi, an underground newspaper and website from the rebel stronghold Daraya, only 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) from Mezze 86. "Enab Baladi" means "grapes of my country," a name that is meant to invoke the sweet grapes that once grew in the gardens of Daraya.

The authors of Enab Baladi have documented the destruction that has been visited on Daraya since the army identified the suburb as a terrorist stronghold in the summer. They write, photograph and shoot videos, documenting fighter jets as their drop their deadly loads over Daraya, tanks rumbling through the district and shooting indiscriminately into buildings, and how the army went from house to house on Aug. 25, 2012, dragging supporters of the rebellion and lining them up against walls. Hundreds were shot to death on that day, say the founders of Enab Baladi.

The women have brought along a shaky video as an example. The footage shows the wreckage of a house, as a voice says anxiously, "Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar." The cameraman pushes in the door of the bombed house and steps over upturned tables and cabinets. The body of a man in his mid-40s is lying on his back on the floor, his legs pulled up at an angle. "Allahu akbar," the cameraman says with a sob. He hurries into the bathroom, where there is another victim on the floor. The camera crew finds a total of three bodies in the house. "Allahu akbar," they all say, sobbing.

Almost 1,400 years ago, the Prophet Mohammed is said to have used the phrase "Allahu akbar" -- God is great" -- to boost the morale of his soldiers. Muslim fighters use it to this day, including groups affiliated with Al-Qaida, like the Al-Nusra Front.

Enab Baladi is the voice of the survivors of Daraya. The buildings that once housed their schools, post offices and hospitals are in ruins today. But are the rebels of Daraya in fact extremists, as the general claims?

Who Are the Rebels?
"At first we carried flowers and demonstrated for reforms," one of the women says in response. "The government invited us to round-table talks. After that they knew who our leaders were and arrested them. We are conservative, but we don't want a caliphate. We yearn for democracy and humanity."

Do your allies abduct people? "Yes. We have to exchange them for our relatives and friends who are still in prison."

Do extremists fight on your side? "How can we be choosy here? We are victims and we are dying. We are grasping at every straw."

What should a free Syria look like if it is achieved with the help of Islamists like the Al-Nusra group? "If the regime falls, we will fight against Al-Nusra. This here is only the beginning of a long process."

The articles on Enab Baladi are surprisingly levelheaded, even when, as happened on this day, one of the newspaper's co-founders was killed in his car when he was hit by shrapnel. But 23 months of war have also poisoned members of the opposition. The struggle against an army that is destroying its own country, and the bitterness over the fact that the Western world has not come to their aid, has shifted internal boundaries, even among the best. "Yes, that's what has become of us," one of the two men, a computer science student, says with shame in his voice.

At first, the brutality largely originated with the army and Assad's thugs, especially the Shabiha ("ghosts"). The Shabiha militias consist of criminals and radicals, incited and paid by the security apparatus. They are originally from the Alawite hinterland along the coast between Latakia and Tartus, the home of the Assads. The Shabiha do the dirty work in Assad's security apparatus.

The group of killers got its name since the 1970s, when criminal members of the Assad clan would steal Mercedes Benz 600s, a popular vehicle at the time, the minute the cars' owners dared to enter their territory. Because of its opulent headlights, the thugs called the model the "ghost," or Shabah. The "ghosts" of the current conflict move through opposition villages, sometimes together with the army, murdering and looting as they go.

'Paid For from the Outside'

Both sides, the rebels and the regime, have been instruments of a larger showdown, with Russia, China and Iran on one side, and Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, the United States and Europe on the other.

The Saudi Arabians and their allies would like to pull Syria out of the Shiite axis, which also includes Iran and Hezbollah. Although most Syrians are Sunnis, they have long been ruled by the Alawite Assad clan. Saudi Arabians and Turks want to expand Sunni influence in the region, the US wants to protect Israel.

The other side, especially the Russians, want to curb the West's dominance in the Middle East and secure their old advantages in the region, such as Tartus, the Russians' only naval base in the Mediterranean.

"This uprising is organized and paid for from the outside, for the most part," claims Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mikdad. He has traveled a lot in recent weeks, making visits to Russia, Iran and China. He is an inconspicuous man wearing a blue suit and plain tie, but he is in charge of the regime's foreign policy, and he is thankful that Syria's few remaining friends still back the regime.

The rebels are receiving "billions of US dollars from the Gulf countries," Mikdad claims, sitting in his enormous office at the Foreign Ministry in Damascus. "It's a worldwide mercenary business." According to Mikdad, the Saudi Arabians and Syria's Turkish neighbors are especially involved. With the help of religious groups, he says, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is trying to "establish a new Ottoman Empire." The Assad regime is getting in Erdogan's way, says Mikdad, which is why Turkey supports the rebels.

Although so-called local coordination committees in Idlib, Aleppo, Homs and Hama collect information about the rebels' struggle, not all revolutionaries are under joint command. There are various splinter groups seemingly fighting for their own causes in various places. The rebel groups include dilettantes alongside professionals, deserted soldiers, jihadists from Libya, Tunisia and even Australia, and the Al-Nusra extremists. At the moment, they all have the same goal: to topple the regime. But when Assad does fall, their commonalities will likely disappear quickly.

Unable to Bake Bread

The ones suffering are the civilians, even in Damascus, where survival has become more difficult as everyday life has become harsher. The electricity is only on for a few hours at a time. Gasoline and diesel are being rationed and heating fuel on the black market costs five times as much as it did before the crisis. The situation is such that bakeries are sometimes unable to bake bread. An employee at the Talisman, the luxury hotel where Angelina Jolie once stayed, is now sitting in front of a wood stove with a coworker in the only warm room in the building. There is no electricity and, of course, there are no guests.

A little later, a young woman is hurrying through the narrow streets of the Christian neighborhood, not far from the hotel. She has dyed her hair light blonde to avoid being recognized, and the hood of her coat is pulled down over her face. She is looking for a place where the walls don't have ears. Speaking in a whisper, she describes what her life has become in this war: "I lie in bed, the house is cold and dark, the telephone is dead, and I weep."

She belongs to a small group of opposition members who are trying to track down those who have disappeared, or at least to count them. Even though the government has been undermined, it still has the capacity to intercept and torture people like her, using the usual approach: windowless group cells, hanging up prisoners by their hands, beating their calves until they turn dark blue and beating them on the back until their skin bursts open.

Not true, say government officials in Damascus. The speaker of the parliament, Mohammad Jihad al-Laham, is an unhappy looking man dressed in a black suit with a black tie. He has a narrow mouth and a blonde moustache. In November, a rebel detachment shot and killed his brother on his way to work.

Laham is sitting in the heavily guarded parliament building, on a chair adorned with mother-of-pearl inlays. Behind him are a lavish, decorative gold-colored wall and a portrait of President Assad.

'We Don't Use It in Court'

"What exactly does this opposition want?" Laham asks, raising his hands theatrically: "To destroy!"

He insists that President Assad heard the demands of the demonstrators. He concedes that some were legitimate and that Assad made all the changes they had demanded. The emergency laws were lifted, there is no longer only one political party, parliamentary elections were held and establishing parties is now allowed. "What else?" Laham says, raising his voice. "We want negotiations with all sides. We don't exclude anyone, and we give security guarantees."

What about the accounts of torture?

Laham, a lawyer, doesn't deny anything. He is also the president of the Syrian lawyers' union, and he is familiar with abuse. Torture, he says, is what was done here in the past, but now a prisoner awaiting trial can only be held in prison for 60 days. And if a prisoner is tortured, he adds, he now has the right to see a doctor. "And if a confession was obtained through torture, we don't use it in court."

Outside, the human rights activist has found a quiet café. She says that she can sense the unfortunate people being held in the intelligence agencies' cells, such as in the notorious Khatib Prison. Sometimes she gets help from personal contacts, and sometimes men within the security apparatus secretly given her information. She says that at least 60,000 people have been arrested nationwide. A fellow activist, an attorney, had just been taken into custody. The activist is afraid, but she is determined to persevere in Damascus. "Not everyone can leave," she says.

But Damascus, the biblical city with its magnificent gardens, a city where different religions coexisted peacefully, hasn't existed for a long time. No one sits in the bars and restaurants in the old city at night anymore. Now Damascus is filled with refugees from Aleppo, Idlib, Duma and Daraya, and the poor are begging in the streets, sleeping at relatives' houses.

Delicious Chocolate

The ropes hang down loosely from the flagpole in front of the abandoned German Embassy in the Malki district. The shutters are locked at the Dutch Embassy, and the US Embassy, surrounded with barbed wire, is also closed. The Saudi Arabians have left their lights on.

Wealthy Syrians have gone to the United States or Paris, where many have houses. Those who are able make their way to Lebanon or Jordan, while the Alawites go to Tartuz or Latakia. But for anyone who hasn't left the embattled Damascus suburb Daraya yet, it is likely because they can't.

The army claims that it has surrounded Daraya, and that the tunnels that connected the suburb to the outside world were discovered and sealed up. "We have destroyed 90 percent of the terrorists," an army spokesman said on television last week.

Marjam, 26, is one of the Enab Baladi authors from Daraya. She opens her laptop in the café to show yet another video. It depicts a bomb striking the house of a fellow activist at the newspaper, followed by the recovery of 15 bodies from the rubble, the activist's family. "What do we have left?" the young woman asks, with a bitter laugh.

How much longer can this continue? Some in Damascus say that Assad could persevere until 2014, and that he wants to legitimize his position through an election to the presidency. A Saudi Arabia intelligence agent is certain that Assad will be gone in no more than six months. Perhaps someone from his own ranks will murder him, the agent says, pointing out that many in his inner circle are corruptible, and that it's only a question of price. If that happens, the parties could soon negotiate peace.

"Chocolates?" the general asks from behind his large wooden desk. He attempts a smile. "How could we make such delicious chocolate if we were in fact finished?"

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

************

Syrian rebel raids expose secrets of once-feared military

Former regime strongholds are now being picked clean – and some are underwhelmed by what lies behind the perimeter walls

Martin Chulov in Aleppo
The Guardian, Monday 4 February 2013 17.30 GMT   

The red phone had been silent for more than 20 years, encased in reinforced glass in the corner of the major's office. When it rang just after midnight on 6 September 2007, the startled Syrian officers nearby had to remind themselves what to do.

"I told my colleagues that we had to break the case with a hammer, then answer it," said Abu Mohammed, a former air force major then based at an air defence station near the north-eastern city of Deir Azzor. "It had not even rung during a training exercise."

Abu Mohammed, now a senior member of the rebel movement in the north of the country, broke the glass. What followed, he said, were the most puzzling 10 minutes of his military career.

"I shattered the glass and answered the phone," he said. "There was a brigadier on the other end from the strategic air command in Damascus. He said: 'There are enemy planes approaching, you are not to do anything.'

"I was confused. Do nothing? This is what we were waiting for. We couldn't see them on our radars. And then our radars were jammed. The missile base nearby could not have fired even if it was allowed."

Until last week, the Israeli raid in 2007 that destroyed what the International Atomic Energy Agency concluded was a nuclear reactor at al-Kibbar, north of Deir Azzor, was the last time Syria's much-vaunted air defence system was tested.

But last Wednesday just before dawn, the Israeli planes returned. The attack formations were obvious on the radar systems used by Nato tracking stations and by Lebanese civil aviation: about 10 jets, all of which approached from the Mediterranean over southern Lebanon.

Some of the planes remained circling in Lebanese airspace. Others crossed into Syria, firing eight missiles near a building 11 miles north of Damascus and then flying west. Just like at Deir Azzour six years ago, the Syrian air defences stayed silent.

"They did the same as what they did to us," Abu Mohammed said on Monday from the Aleppo countryside. "The reality is that we are blind in the face of the enemy."

Syrian defence officials have claimed that the invading planes escaped by staying below the radar. Opposition figures, meanwhile, have largely either ignored the attack or pretended it didn't happen. Better that than to acknowledge a sworn enemy of both sides was making things easier for them.

Nearly two withering years of war have clearly taken a toll on the Syrian military, which before the insurrection was reputed to be one of the region's most powerful. Army bases were considered impregnable, air defences the most formidable in the region, and soldiers resolutely loyal.

"The only thing we really still fear is the Migs," said Maalik Sayedi, a carpenter turned guerrilla fighter, as he picked through the remains of an overrun infantry school on the northern outskirts of Aleppo. "When we raided this place, the fight was over in less than two hours."

The infantry school is one of four nearby regime bases overrun between mid-December and late January. Units stationed in this bleak, sprawling complex, which was the main training site in northern Syria for officers and soldiers alike, put up less of a fight than those defending airbases. Signs of the rout are everywhere.

In the middle of a field, surrounded by pine and fir trees, five delapidated Soviet tanks, the defensive core of the inner base, stand in ruin. The maker's plate inside each says 1959. Four armoured personnel carriers are in crumbling disarray, their cables and rusting armour discarded across fields churned muddy brown by tank tracks.

Until December this base was one of the last regime strongholds in northern Syria. But now those who once would not dare approach the giant concrete walls and watch towers that surround it are picking the base clean like a carcass. Anything is fair game, especially wood, which is being harvested from wherever it can be found to heat family homes.

Hundreds of old trees just inside the wall have been sawn down, their stumps exposing buildings that long stood as tribute to the military's position at the heart of Syrian society. The denuding of the perimeter is exposing the base's secrets. And those drifting inside to see them are underwhelmed.

"It was exciting at first," said 17-year-old Hussein Mohammed, carrying a hacksaw in one hand and a plastic bucket full of kindling branches in the other. "But this is it," he said with a wave of the saw. "This is where you learned to be a soldier in the Syrian army."

Vivid murals of the late dictator Hafez al-Assad are painted on walls on the parade grounds and at the base's main entrance, now manned by dozing rebel fighters. Though Bashar al-Assad has run Syria for almost 13 years, he is afforded only one portrait. His late older brother Basil, killed in a car crash in 1994, still takes pride of place next to his father here.

All around are obstacle courses. Hundreds of rusting black and white hoops and bars, and truck tyres half buried in the soil. Whatever their shortcomings, graduates from this school must have been fit.

Later, in the biting cold of a mid-winter night in Aleppo, Firas Tmeimi, who took part in the infantry school raid and has since joined attempts to storm other bases, said each operation was a revelation.

"We thought they were strong. But the veil has been lifted. Fear was the regime's greatest weapon. Without that, we can match them," he said, before stopping in mid sentence as a distant roar drew nearer.

"Except for the planes," he added, ducking as a low-flying jet streaked overhead. "Two of them are worth more than all the airbases we've seized."

• This article was amended on 5 February 2013 to correct the spelling of fir trees, from fur trees.

*********

February 4, 2013

Assad Can Avoid Trial by Leaving, Coalition Says

By HANIA MOURTADA and RICK GLADSTONE
IHT

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Syria’s opposition coalition gave qualified backing on Monday to its leader’s surprise offer last week for a dialogue with President Bashar al-Assad to end the civil war, pressing him to respond definitively and even offering the added inducement that he could avoid trial if he resigned and left the country.

Although the offer made by the opposition leader, Sheik Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib, was by his own admission a personal gambit and was initially greeted with a torrent of criticism inside the Syrian opposition movement, his colleagues in the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces basically endorsed it over the weekend. While some complained that Sheik Khatib had not consulted them before making the offer and a few even called for his resignation, others went along in part to counter the appearance of fractiousness that has long been a weakness in the opposition.

Sheik Khatib, a respected Sunni cleric in exile who once was the head imam at the historic Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, said he would engage in dialogue with Mr. Assad’s government only if it released 160,000 political prisoners and renewed all expired passports held by members of the Syrian diaspora, which includes large numbers of dissidents.

On Sunday, an aide to Mr. Assad gave a vague response. The aide, Ali Haidar, Syria’s minister of national reconciliation, said in an interview with Russia Today, a Kremlin-financed news organization sympathetic to Syria’s government, that the government was open to talks with any opposition members who reject violence. He also said it was willing to address the passport issue, but not necessarily the release of prisoners. Mr. Haidar said the 160,000 figure was exaggerated and asked Sheik Khatib to send a list of prisoner names.

The Syrian opposition, which considers Mr. Assad a brutal dictator responsible for the estimated 60,000 or more deaths in the nearly two-year conflict, had long contended that there could be no talks with his government until he resigned. While the opposition is still saying Mr. Assad’s departure must be part of any political settlement to end the conflict, it is no longer a precondition for talks.

Apparently emboldened by the belated support from other members of the opposition coalition, as well as endorsements of his initiative from the United Nations secretary general and special Syria envoy, Sheik Khatib demanded during an interview with Al Jazeera on Monday that Mr. Assad give him a “a clear stand” on the proposal.

“We say we will extend our hand for the interest of people and to help the regime leave peacefully,” Sheik Khatib said in the interview. “It is now in the hands of the regime.”

Directly addressing President Assad, who has not only refused to resign but has said he might run for re-election next year, Sheik Khatib said: “Before you go to sleep, look into your children’s eyes and part of your humanity will return and we will find a solution. Look at your children’s eyes and try to find a solution and you will find that we can help each other for the interest of this country.”

In a separate interview later with the Al Arabiya news network, Sheik Khatib also suggested that Mr. Assad could appoint as an emissary his vice president, Farouk al-Shara, a longtime member of Mr. Assad’s hierarchy who has been mentioned before by Arab diplomats as a possible political transition leader. The sheik said Mr. Shara’s hands were not “stained with blood.”

A spokesman for the opposition said in a telephone interview that members of the coalition’s board had also decided that they would offer Mr. Assad the opportunity to escape prosecution, provided he left the country.

“This is the best thing we are willing to offer if we were to have a dialogue with the regime,” said the spokesman, Walid al-Bunni. “This is a concession we might bring up if we have a dialogue, but the basis for the dialogue should be the regime stepping down.”

Mr. Bunni noted that the coalition had issued a statement on Thursday, a day after Sheik Khatib made the offer, that emphasized “that any dialogue should be based on the idea of transition and that the coalition welcomes any international effort if that’s the vision they have in mind.”

Mr. Bunni also said, “If this goal, Assad stepping down, can be achieved through a political solution, then we are going to receive it in a positive way.”

Sheik Khatib sought to strengthen his political credentials at a regional security conference held in Munich over the weekend. He met separately with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and the foreign ministers of Russia and Iran, the Assad government’s strongest foreign supporters.

In what appeared to be a gesture of good will timed to coincide with those meetings, Syrian rebels released two abducted Russian workers and an Italian citizen in exchange for captured rebel fighters. The news of the exchange, reported by the Russian Foreign Ministry on Monday, did not specify how many rebels had been part of the deal.

Fighters captured the three on Dec. 12 as they traveled from Homs, a major city devastated by heavy fighting, to the tiny Russian military refueling base at the port of Tartus.

In a new indication of the deprivations faced by Syrian civilians, Unicef said Monday that a large-scale operation was under way to provide safe water to more than 10 million people in the country, nearly half the population. Unicef said trucks loaded with chlorination supplies were heading for Homs, Aleppo, Hama and Idlib, with further plans for distribution of 1,000 tons of chlorination supplies throughout Syria.

“This shipment is very timely as supplies of chlorine in Syria have fallen dangerously low, making access to safe water challenging for many families,” Youssouf Abdel-Jelil, the Unicef representative in Syria, said in a statement. “This puts the population — and children especially — at high risk of contracting diarrhea and other waterborne diseases.”

Hania Mourtada reported from Beirut, and Rick Gladstone from New York. Andrew Roth contributed reporting from Moscow.




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« Reply #4403 on: Feb 05, 2013, 08:10 AM »

February 4, 2013

Sri Lankan Leader Seems to Reject Greater Autonomy for Tamils

By GARDINER HARRIS
IHT

NEW DELHI — The president of Sri Lanka appeared to rule out greater political autonomy for the country’s Tamil ethnic minority on Monday, despite promising for years to support the idea in the wake of a bloody civil war.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa traveled to Trincomalee, a city on Sri Lanka’s east coast that was once claimed by Tamil separatists, and delivered an Independence Day speech that both rejected new power for Tamil-dominated provincial councils and warned foreign governments not to interfere in the country’s internal affairs.

“When the people live together in unity, there are no racial or religious differences,” Mr. Rajapaksa said in the speech. “Therefore, it is not practical for this country to have different administrations based on ethnicity. The solution is to live together in this country with equal rights for all communities.”

The statement ran counter to promises Mr. Rajapaksa had made to Tamil groups and to foreign governments that he would devolve considerable authority to the country’s provinces, including those with Tamil majorities in the north and east. Indeed, the 13th Amendment to Sri Lanka’s Constitution requires such a devolution of authority, and Mr. Rajapaksa had promised to “build on” that amendment.

In a joint statement with the secretary general of the United Nations in 2009, for instance, Mr. Rajapaksa “expressed his firm resolve to proceed with the implementation of the 13th Amendment, as well as to begin a broader dialogue with all parties, including the Tamil parties in the new circumstances, to further enhance this process and to bring about lasting peace and development in Sri Lanka.”

And as recently as a year ago, the external affairs minister of India, S. M. Krishna, said that Mr. Rajapaksa had, in a meeting, “assured me that he stands by his commitment to pursuing the 13th Amendment-plus approach.”

Two weeks later, though, Mr. Rajapaksa denied giving any such assurances, and his government has sent clear signals in recent months that it had no intention of building on the 13th Amendment and may move to repeal it.

When the Sri Lankan Supreme Court struck down a law in September 2012 because it violated the amendment, the ruling infuriated the president and soon led to impeachment proceedings against the chief justice. In October, his brother, Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, called for the amendment’s repeal.

“This speech makes even more clear that the Rajapaksas don’t have any interest in sharing power,” said Alan Keenan, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group.

The United States has expressed concerns about the impeachment of the chief justice, and the United Nations Human Rights Council is expected in March to ask Sri Lanka about its progress on measures meant to heal the conflict with the Tamils, including investigation of alleged human rights violations during the civil war and greater autonomy for Tamil areas. About 18 percent of Sri Lankans are Tamils; most of the rest are Sinhalese. Tamils also account for a major part of the population of southeastern India.

Mr. Rajapaksa’s speech came nearly four years after his government defeated the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels after decades of bloody struggle. The United Nations has estimated that 80,000 to 100,000 people were killed during the war; other estimates put the number higher.

The Tamil National Alliance, the main ethnic Tamil political party in Sri Lanka, said in a statement that the United Nations Human Rights Council must take “stern action” against the Sri Lankan government, which it said had not investigated abuses in good faith, The Associated Press reported.

The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative and the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice released a joint statement on Monday calling on Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations to “recognize the continuing deterioration of democracy, human rights and rule of law in its totality” in Sri Lanka.


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« Reply #4404 on: Feb 05, 2013, 08:12 AM »


Bangladesh jails Islamic party leader for life

Sentencing of Abdul Quader Mollah for role in independence war against Pakistan in 1971 sparks clashes in Dhaka

Associated Press in Dhaka
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 5 February 2013 07.58 GMT   

A Bangladeshi tribunal has sentenced a leader of the country's main Islamic party to life in jail for his role during the independence war against Pakistan in 1971.

The tribunal pronounced the verdict on Tuesday against Abdul Quader Mollah in a packed courtroom at the high court in Dhaka. His Jamaat-e-Islami party had ordered a general strike that shut down schools and shops and halted most traffic in Dhaka.

Following the sentence, Jamaat supporters exploded homemade bombs and clashed with police in parts of the capital, leaving several people injured, ATN News said.

Mollah and five other leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami party have been on trial before Dhaka's International Crimes Tribunal accused of committing atrocities during the nine-month war against Pakistan more than 40 years ago. A former party member was sentenced to death last month.

In 2010, the government of the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, initiated the process of trying those accused of committing crimes against humanity during the war, under an amended 1973 law.

Jamaat-e-Islami – a key partner in a former Bangladeshi government – says the charges are politically motivated. Authorities deny the claim.

Jamaat campaigned against Bangladesh's independence war and stands accused of forming several groups to help Pakistani troops in killing, rape and arson. Until it gained independence in 1971, Bangladesh was the eastern wing of Pakistan, and Bangladesh says Pakistani troops aided by local collaborators killed 3 million people and raped 200,000 women.

Mollah was tried on six counts, including playing a role in the killing of 381 unarmed civilians, the prosecution says. He denied the charges.

Last month, the tribunal sentenced former party member Abul Kalam Azad to death in the first war crimes trial verdict.

International human rights groups have raised questions about the conduct of the tribunals, including the disappearance of a defence witness outside the courthouse gates.

Jamaat-e-Islami was a key partner in the former government of Khaleda Zia, a longtime political rival of Hasina. Zia has called the tribunal a farce, while Hasina has urged Zia to stop backing those she says fought against independence.
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« Reply #4405 on: Feb 05, 2013, 08:14 AM »


Burma government and Kachin rebels hold peace talks

Latest round of negotiations comes as Kachin Independence Army loses key positions near its headquarters in Laiza

Kate Hodal in Rangoon
The Guardian, Tuesday 5 February 2013   

Ethnic Kachin rebels have begun peace talks with the Burmese government in China after recent intense fighting saw the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) lose key positions around its headquarters in Laiza, northern Burma.

Senior negotiators from each side arrived in Ruili, a city on the Chinese border with Kachin state, including Aung Min, a high-ranking minister in the office of Burma's president, Thein Sein, and the KIA's second-in-command, General Gun Maw. The general was absent from earlier peace discussions in October, a move seen as a significant blow to the Burmese army.

Monday's negotiations were also attended by other ethnic rebel groups in Burma, among them Karen and Shan leaders, as well as representatives from the Myanmar Peace Centre, an EU-funded government body that mediates conflict between the Burmese government and the country's ethnic groups, Khon Ja of the Kachin Peace Network told the Guardian.

After seven hours of talks both sides released a statement saying they would work to calm military tensions, open lines of communication and invite observers to attend their next meeting to be held before the end of February.

The meeting is expected to be the first of many negotiations after 11 rounds of previous peace talks ended without solution.

The KIA, which has been fighting for nearly 50 years for greater autonomy, has repeatedly refused to sign a ceasefire deal until a political agreement is made with the Burmese government. It is the only ethnic group that has not yet signed a peace deal with Thein Sein's administration.

Heavy fighting between the KIA and Burmese army resumed in July 2011 after 17 years of ceasefire, and is regarded as a serious setback to the economic and political reforms Thein Sein has instituted since taking power. The most violent skirmishes between began in December, when the Burmese army launched heavy artillery and air strikes, and for the first time in five decades used fighter jets and helicopter gunships against guerilla outposts.

Although Thein Sein called for a ceasefire in January, it was almost immediately ignored by the army, raising questions on how much power the president has over the military, which ruled the country for nearly 50 years until a quasi-civilian government was established in 2011.

The Chinese government is central to the mediation between the KIA and Burmese government as China, which shares a border with Kachin state, houses a significant number of Kachin refugees who have fled the fighting. Four mortars fired by the Burmese army also landed on Chinese soil last month.

Whether the peace talks will stop the continued fighting remains to be seen. The latest negotiations came just one day after the Burmese government shelled rebel outposts near Laiza, Khon Ja said, as well as across other parts of the state.

Rights groups say nearly 100,000 people have been displaced by the fighting, with an unknown number of casualties.
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« Reply #4406 on: Feb 05, 2013, 08:16 AM »


Malaysia accused over deporting Uighur asylum seekers to China

Rights group says forced return of ethnic Uighur Chinese is violation of international laws and has endangered their lives

Associated Press in Kuala Lumpur
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 5 February 2013 07.10 GMT   

An international rights group has criticised Malaysia for deporting six ethnic Uighur Chinese who were seeking asylum, saying it has put the men's lives in danger.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said the forced return of the men to China on 31 December was a grave violation of international laws.

Muslim minority Uighurs repatriated to China from elsewhere in the past have expressed fear of long jail terms or the death penalty.

Citing credible sources, Human Rights Watch said the six men were held earlier last year for allegedly attempting to leave Malaysia using false passports. It said the men registered with the UN refugee agency in Kuala Lumpur while in detention and were to have their claims reviewed when they were deported.

Malaysian police clandestinely transferred the men into the custody of Chinese authorities, who escorted them back to China on a chartered flight, it said.

The UN high commissioner for refugees said in a statement it had sought the men's release into its custody while their claims were being assessed and regretted they were deported despite its intervention.

Representatives for Malaysia's home ministry, which handles police and security issues, said they could not immediately comment.

This was the second group of Uighurs that Malaysia has deported to China. In 2011, Malaysia detained 16 of them and deported 11. The other five managed to register with the UN agency and were released into its custody.

"While Malaysians were celebrating the New Year their government was forcibly returning Uighur asylum seekers to a dangerously uncertain fate in China," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. It said a Uighur forcibly returned to China by Malaysia in 2011 was sentenced to six years in prison on charges of separatism.

"The government has an obligation to explain how this happened, China's role, and the steps being taken to ensure it doesn't happen again," Robertson added.

China has said that some Uighurs, a Muslim minority from the restive western region of Xinjiang, are terrorists or criminals who pose a threat to the region's safety. It insists that Uighur refugees be extradited back.

Overseas Uighur activists and analysts say anger among Uighurs over government economic policies and restrictions on their culture, religion, and language has helped drive an increase in violence in Xinjiang in recent years.


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« Reply #4407 on: Feb 05, 2013, 08:26 AM »


Croatia: Bumps in the road to accession

4 February 2013
NRC Handelsblad Amsterdam   

The Netherlands is the 22nd member state to ratify Croatia's accession to the EU on July 1. A fair decision, says NRC Handelsblad, even if the laxity shown by the bloc during the enlargement which included Bulgaria and Romania led them to be more severe with Zagreb.
NRC Handelsblad

A significant majority of the Dutch Lower House voted in favour of allowing Croatia to join the European Union on January 29. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, a debt of honour needed to be repaid to this Balkan country by the old European Union, and that includes the Netherlands.

What is more, it is crucially important to Europe that stability returns to this area that was ravaged by war only 20 years ago. Membership of the European Union is one of the best ways of ensuring that this goal is achieved.

Procedure leaves bad taste

Nevertheless, this European Union accession procedure still leaves a rather bad taste in the mouth. One might expect the Union to have learned from the Romania and Bulgaria fiascos. In 2007, both countries were admitted to the EU, despite not being ready. Back then, political considerations took precedence over the clear European Union rules regarding the accession of new members.

The consequence is that, six years after being admitted, Romania and Bulgaria are still struggling to manage a poorly functioning constitutional state, blighted by widespread corruption.

Successive Dutch governments have rightly argued, at the European Union level, in favour of very strict compliance with what are known as the Copenhagen criteria, which state the conditions for allowing newcomers to the Union. As a consequence, the evaluation of Croatia was much more critical and was based on more stringent assessment procedures.
House still not in order

However, it should also be noted that Croatia still does not have its house in order, scarcely six months before the intended accession date of July 1. In October last year the European Commission published 10 points for improvement in its periodical report. The final verdict will be published in the Commission's next report, which is expected in March.

A large number of EU countries agreed to Croatia's accession even before the Netherlands. As is often the case in the EU, there is no going back and the accession train can no longer be stopped.

However, that train is, in fact, one of the most important reasons for the breach of trust between the European Union and citizens of the member states.
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« Reply #4408 on: Feb 05, 2013, 08:28 AM »


Spain: Rebuilding public morality

4 February 2013
El País Madrid 

Suspected of having received money from the slush funds of the People's Party, the prime minister has defended his integrity. But for El Pais, which published the "Bárcenas notes", his political future is a secondary issue. The big challenge is rebuilding the entire Spanish political system.
El País

Appearing before the leaders of his party on February 2 to defend his integrity, Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy emphatically denied that he had ever touched dirty money. We have no doubt of his sincerity, and we are sure that we share this impression with many citizens, whether they voted for him in the elections or not.

This, though, is not the issue worrying the Spanish public. What is worrying them is the evidence of the fortune piled away by the former People's Party (PP) treasurer Luis Bárcenas beyond the reach of the Spanish Treasury. Also, Bárcenas's connections with the Gürtel affair, which has seen numerous elected public officials from the PP indicted for corruption, and revelations from individuals and sectors close to the PP itself that irregular payments have been paid to the party leadership for years.

We now know that the payment and accounting system that Bárcenas ran, continuing the established practices in the party, was shut down by a decision of the general secretary, María Dolores de Cospedal, and by Mariano Rajoy himself.

That makes the party's bunkering down in face of the revelations relatively incomprehensible, when it was precisely the two main current leaders who decided to put an end to the suspicions of irregularities dragged into the light of day by the discovery of webs of corruption like those exposed by the Gürtel affair.

Positive steps

The promises of transparency made by the president, including a public declaration of his income and assets, must be seen as positive steps. It cannot be claimed, though, that this transparency has been as a general rule normal in the party after so many episodes, which started off with the dubious practices of its first treasurer, Rosendo Naseiro.

It should be enough to recall the sentencing of the ex-president of the Baleares region and former Minister under Aznar, Jaume Matas, the imprisonment of [Francisco] Correa [the main defendant in the Gürtel scandal, a corruption scandal that implicated regional PP party figures and businessmen that had received favours in calls for public tender and concessions] and accusations of bribery and fraud against PP mayors and councillors.

The argument over the transparency of the accounts also suffers from a fundamental weakness: the permanent shadow of Luis Bárcenas, who for 20 years shared the financial secrets of the party headquarters. It may be true that the €22m kept by the ex-treasurer in a Swiss bank account are unconnected to the political party, but what is no longer in doubt is that the manager and the treasurer of the same era was made a multi-millionaire [and a tax cheat, now pardoned] precisely by the government of a party whose accounts he managed for so many years.

It is up to the courts now to determine how Bárcenas amassed his fortune and to establish the veracity of his accounting records. The leaders of the PP must now explain to their voters and the general public how it was possible that they gave their trust to a fiscal offender for decades, even following his expulsion and amid serious allegations of corruption. Politically, though, it will clearly be difficult to disengage from a leader who got rich in an office very close to theirs.
No half-way democracy

Otherwise the prime minister will be much mistaken if, after appearing before his party, he supposes that the citizens will accept the explanations that the revelations of the last few weeks amount to a conspiracy against his party or person.

The justice system will rule on what happened in the past. But politics should look to the present and to the future, and here we are talking about democracy. Not about a half-way democracy, in which institutions are hemmed in by dark forces and de facto powers, but about a European country, with leaders (in power and in opposition) that are above any suspicion.

It is normal that, faced with the revelations the citizens of Spain will show their outrage, fuelled by a financial crisis caused partly by the housing bubble that fuelled political corruption. It is therefore essential to bring in a programme for a democratic revival, including the legal and moral rearmament of our institutions – a movement whose leadership cannot take on board any of the existing political forces when the vast majority of them are under suspicion.

The political class, held in very low esteem by the citizen, as all the polls show, must be aware of this – especially those who are in office. To wall themselves off against the criticism, to ignore reality, not to heed the justified protests of the street, is an exercise that will lead only to frustration and melancholy.   

Opinion: Some housecleaning is needed

The publication by El País of “secret notes” allegedly by Luis Bárcenas, the former treasurer of the Popular Party, has blown up a political storm and an institutional crisis. The published notes reveal the system of double-booking through which party members received additional payments between 1990 and 2008. Their presumed author was expelled from the party in 2010 for his involvement in the Gürtel corruption scandal.

Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, the secretary general of the Socialist Party (PSOE), the main opposition party, has even demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. The latter has publicly denied being involved, but doubts are growing about the possible involvement of prominent members of the party and even of the minister of health, Ana Mato, who may have received funds to cover private expenses.

For the conservative daily El Mundo, Rajoy statements come to nowhere near drawing a line under the scandal –

    The blind alley he finds himself in would open out if he were to admit that the PP has accepted murky donations and announced an inquiry to find out whether party leaders have received slush funds. This will cost him something politically, but much less than what he will be up against if he does not take the initiative against those who have apparently dipped repeatedly into the cashbox of the PP to increase their personal wealth.
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« Reply #4409 on: Feb 05, 2013, 08:36 AM »


European Union: ‘The mighty money market’

5 February 2013
Presseurop
Berlingske Tidende, 5 February 2013

Member States are increasing the pressure on the eve of the European Council meeting scheduled for February 7-8 to discuss the 2014-2020 budget. Negotiations "have entered a decisive phase, but nothing was finalised at the February 4 European Affairs Ministers' meeting, notes the daily newspaper.

Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt said she was ready to veto the budget if her country is not granted a rebate of one billion crowns (€134m) on its

The prime minister is still prepared to veto the EU budget negotiations if Denmark does not have a billion dollars in rebate. She says that prior to the summit on Thursday.

By Merian Garde gras,
 Berlingske News
4th February 2013, 14:34

If Denmark does not have a discount of one billion dollars in EU quota, then Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt (S) block the EU budget. That is the threat from Thorning ahead of the crucial negotiations end of the week.

- It is still the case that we want a billion in Danish discount, and that's what we worked very hard at the moment, says the Prime Minister.

Question: So called it remains the case that there are one billion in Danish discount, or there is no budget deal?

- It's called still the case, yes, says Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who thus is ready to use Danish veto if she does not get her way.

Thursday and Friday will meet Thorning with other EU Heads of State and Government summit in Brussels to determine the EU budget for the period 2014-2020. In November, they had to go home from the summit without results, when negotiations broke down.

Minister for European Affairs Nicolai Wammen (S) participating Monday in the last ministerial meeting before the summit. Here are the member European ministers the opportunity to make their national priorities aware of the European Council President Herman Van Rompuy.

The message from Wammen is clear:

- A Danish discount budget and a smaller budget where the money be better used to create jobs and growth, says Minister in a press release.

Prior to negotiations on the EU budget has Nicolai Wammen had about 200 official meetings with his European counterparts.

- Negotiations have now entered a crucial phase, and there is nothing that has been decided. However, there is no doubt that we are facing tough negotiations, says the Danish Minister for European Affairs.


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